Friday, March 29, 2013

Reduced Sales in the Auto Industry Requires New Responsibilities For Automotive Advertising Agencies

The role of the automotive advertising agency in today's consolidating auto industry must change to accommodate the needs of the auto dealers that they serve. Reduced sales volume and profits have forced auto dealers to reduce their automotive advertising budgets and sales staff. As a direct result, automotive advertising agencies are being challenged to deliver more for less and reduced budgets and floor traffic suggest that they must increase their areas of responsibility to justify their agency fees or risk losing accounts. More importantly, they must learn the auto industry from the auto dealer's perspective if they expect to be able to contribute in any meaningful manner.

Assuming that we all work our pay plans to maximize our own ROI in our chosen careers in the automotive advertising industry, I thought I would share some best practices regarding an auto dealership's Internet sales processes with my fellow automotive advertising professionals to help them better serve their auto dealer clients. Not all of the situations I discuss will apply to every auto dealership so take note of ones that do and save the others for future reference in case they surface in some other form. I will cover common issues that are part of human nature. After all, the key to success in the car business is in the people - not in the franchise or facility - so most problems start and finish with people.

The Internet Department -- From The Dealer's Perspective

As a former new car dealer and current consultant on dealer operations and marketing I am constantly amazed by the disconnect between dealers and their key personnel. I liken the miscommunication of their common goals -- to sell more cars/service and make more money -- to that of a long marriage. Courting equates to the interview and the first few months are like an extended honeymoon. Once the excitement wears off it is a lot of work to remember why you got married in the first place; but worth the effort!

Dealers are people too! They often indulge their emotions in the hiring process based on the fact that they need help more than the applicants need the job! Great interviews get an applicant the job with the dealer's hope and desire to solve a problem - not make a friend. Their business needs eventually outweigh their emotions and words like bottom line profits, accountability and the latest buzz words -- verifiable R.O.I. -- take over. Dealers should always have job descriptions and areas of responsibility along with supported compensation plans based on individual and department guidelines and objectives. Unfortunately, not many auto dealers have those today and few automotive advertising agencies are prepared to provide them.

Today's market losses have forced dealers to make difficult decisions that should have been made before a position was even considered. The survival of the fittest must apply! It's a dirty job but someone has to do it and the Dealer must base his decisions on performance and individually contributed profits or we will all suffer the consequences! That observed deficiency is a perfect opportunity for a forward thinking and prepared automotive advertising agency to earn their fees when direct sales won't support them by passing on the observed need to their auto dealer clients while providing them proven processes to satisfy them.

Re-defining the role of the Internet Sales Manager, (ISM), at the Dealership - Customer Communication Center, (C.C.C.) vs. Business Development Center, (B.D.C.)

The A, B, C's of the car business -- Always Be Closing -- go beyond the showroom floor and apply to the ISM as well as their staff. The key to the close, however, is to know the answer before you ask the question, or at least provide a limited response that you can control!

Based on your new found knowledge and understanding of the dealer's requirements of their ISM, I suggest that you ask the hard questions before your dealer client does! The more you and the ISM are involved in the selling process in both vehicle sales and fixed operations the more productive and profitable you will be. The more accountable and verifiable your R.O.I. to the dealer the more secure your income and the account. Sell yourself and the added value that you bring to his Internet department to your dealer with the leverage of verifiable performance in a clearly defined position on the team beyond what most dealers envisioned from their automotive advertising agency and be paid accordingly.

I propose that you literally have the tail wag the dog, so to speak, by suggesting that the Internet Department become more than a lead generator with limited selling responsibilities. All communications, before, during and after the sale can, should and soon will be handled over the internet and/or on the dealership's website which should now be part of your shared area of responsibility with the ISM.

Currently, Business Development Centers, or B.D.C's., coordinate selling opportunities developed on the telephone, showroom floor, service drive, data base marketing and in many cases the Internet. They rely on linked technology like telephony systems, vendors, such as Whos Calling, and onsite data base management systems, (DMS), such as ADP or Reynolds and Reynolds and customer retention management systems, (CRM), like Higher Gear or DealerUps, that are all now available on the internet.

Who is better prepared to coordinate communications and even transactions on the Internet than the Internet Manager supported by an involved and educated advertising agency? Who has the best understanding of computers, software and integrated links to access and apply information directed to the contacts sourced from the auto dealer's automotive advertising investments? It better be you!

Customer Communication Centers, or C.C.C's. provide a more integrated and accessible central point of contact at the dealership for their customers in both their brick and mortar dealership and their online virtual showroom. All customer contacts for sales, service/parts and office should be channeled to one location from all sources including telephone, email, mail, internal DMS and CRM, Internet -- you name it! The cross-sell opportunities between sales and service/parts by having one contact person suggesting shared opportunities is obvious but unlikely if they are handled by two different people or departments! Less obvious opportunities like customer complaints and key vendor communications provide the ability to turn a problem into a solution but only if channeled properly.

The Internet is hosting telephone, DMS and communications through webinars and emails so take charge and credit with the dealer. Re-define your role at the dealership by increasing your areas of responsibility!

Integrating the Internet into the selling process -- Sales and Fixed Operations

Most dealers have been traumatized by software solutions they are still paying for and never used. Usually they require secondary input, are redundant with other more integrated systems to the selling process or just lack real world applications to their deal flow -- which is driven by human nature on all levels. Inspect what you expect coupled with standards like you can't manage what you can't measure can be applied to support your close for enhanced opportunities for you, his staff and your dealer.

Place the Internet C.C.C. squarely in the middle of all selling processes. Of course be careful what you ask for since an astute dealer will, and should, hold you accountable. No pain, no gain -- so go for it!

As admitted, the devil is in the details, and there is no standard application to apply to all situations. Deciding what to do and what to delegate, and how to best integrate with the auto dealer's current systems to minimize disruption, is the key. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water but expecting different results from the same action is a good definition of insanity.

The auto dealer's sales staff and service writers hate you -- join the team!

The automotive advertising agency has always been perceived by the auto dealer's staff as an outsider and the ISM has only recently earned the respect that he deserves by the old car guys who may still be fighting the shift to the World Wide Web. The Internet Geek of the old days has matured into a key manager in most dealerships and the trend is growing! You can't possibly expect to cross train on all aspects of operations -- but you should try! Evaluate the current communications, customer and deal flow and create a business pro forma in concert with the ISM and the other department managers to develop a profit and increased R.O.I. for all involved and you will earn your position on the team.

Inter-department squabbles in the car business will always exist but your new position on the team -- if introduced correctly -- will transcend individual motives to resist your efforts to improve everyone's bottom line. Taking on the burden of helping the ISM and his team to make appointments and providing centralized communications -- both internally and externally to the dealership -- will free everyone else up to sell more cars, service and parts!

Real time paperless reports available online -- or in the DMS/CRM -- will provide the department managers with the information and tools they need to do their jobs. Your complimentary secretarial services, automated and managed follow up systems to recapture lost sales opportunities coupled with your shared goal to increase appointments, sales and customer satisfaction is not a threat but a blessing!

Establishing goals, accountability -- getting paid on the bottom line

Most automotive advertising agencies and ISMs are involved in search engine optimization plans, (S.E.O.), and search engine marketing plans, (SEM), with applications on their website that track leads, conversions and R.O.I. -- or they should be! Your goal should start with continuing your efforts to increase traffic to your auto dealer's website rather than the telephone. It represents the most sophisticated tracking software available; now and for the foreseeable future. Your ability to track results is where your accountability part gets covered!

Sales goals theoretically start with the dealer's market share responsibility for the manufacturer, (M.S.R.), but fixed and semi-variable expenses quickly establish more pressing goals. Covering the Nut is a street level goal which must be met or none of the others matter. Have the dealer provide you with what he expects -- or needs -- and that should become your common goal!

An example of a realistic goal for an auto dealership should be 4-5 generated appointments per day per person; selling one. This represents 120 + appointments each month, 80 +/- that show up and an additional 20 units per person per month based on a 25% closing ratio.

Include areas that you and the ISM can directly impact and monitor like new and used vehicle sales -- units and gross profit, sales and service appointments, customer satisfaction scores and all monthly sales or performance goals. Define the areas of responsibility that you will handle and decide on which ones you will delegate. Compute the budget, staff and facility you will need, online and in concert with your conventional advertising and community networking proposals, to develop the traffic required to achieve the sales and performance goals the dealer has established.

Use industry guidelines as far as closing ratios and conversion ratios specific to the auto dealer's franchise, size of market, staff, inventory and facility to "back into" your sales vs. traffic needs. Resource local media statistics, like cost per point, C.P.P., to determine the most cost effective media to dominate within your budget focused on the Internet customer and then dominate it.

On broadcast, for example, a 5 plus frequency and a 50% reach coupled with consistent and coordinated dealer specific brand-tail messages, (branding and retail), over a ninety day period with creative directed to your dealer's web site as well as a monitored 800 number will absolutely drive traffic.

Of course expenses must be considered based on line item percentage guidelines vs. other expenses to preserve profits. Another common budget tool is to establish a per unit cap based on experienced expenses per unit which range from $250-$500 per car but it can double in certain markets. Pick a basis for your budget, any basis, and stick with it!

Monitor shifts within budget based on results and R.O.I. per investment but never increase the budget without a proper risk to reward consideration and an acceptable projected R.O.I. The days of guessing are over; so be right!

Do all of the above, design an agency fee tied to specific performance under your control and you will have deserved a bonus tied to the total dealership bottom line because you have contributed to it. More importantly, as a valued member of the team your agency relationship with your auto dealer clients and their staff will survive today's downturn in the economy and the auto industry with its reduced conventional advertising budgets.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Call Center Insurance Companies For Car Insurance - Are They Right For You?

Each insurance company has a different business model that is geared towards their niche market. Call center companies and captive/independent Brokers are the two choices you'll have when shopping for an auto insurance quote (not including the new online insurance companies).

Today I will talk about call center insurance companies. They are probably the easiest way to get a quote for your car insurance. You call, press a few digits on your phone, give your personal information and get a quote on the spot. People who go with call center insurance companies are usually concerned with price alone, which isn't a bad thing. After all, we all want the cheapest rates out there.

One niche that call centers market towards is young drivers looking for cheap car insurance. A 16 year old who just got their license and is itching to get on the road in their Chevy cavalier usually finds the best rates through call centers. For all the 16 year olds reading this, yes call centers offer you competitive rates but let me give you a little hint: If you live with your parents, get a quote from their insurance company. Chances are that if they have their home and car(s) with that company, you will be eligible for multi-car and multi-policy (home and auto) insurance discounts. Even if the car is on a completely separate policy then your parent's cars, as long as you live in their house, you would still qualify for the discounts. I've seen young drivers save more then $1000 on their car insurance after just adding our multi-car and multi-policy discounts. If you don't have that option and you are a young driver, call centers can usually offer you very competitive rates.

Call centers are also known for their group discounts. Although captive agents/brokers sometimes have group discounts, it seems that the call center companies have cornered this market. If you work for a big corporation, go to college or are alumni of a college, chances are that you have access a group discount. Find out what insurance company it is with and you'll be surprised how much you can save.

Another great thing about call centers is that for the most part, they offer far superior online services compared to captive/independent agents or brokers. From getting quotes to viewing your policy information, they are way ahead of the game and some now even offer printing your liability cards (pink slips) from your own computer. This is a service you will most likely not find with a captive/independent agent or broker.

What is the down side of call centers you ask? I think we all know the answer to that. Lack of personal attention. Imagine you have a claim and you call the 1-800 number. You then spend thirty minutes explaining what happened, they then put your claim through for you and you hang up the phone. The next day you need to call again and ask about a rental car or accident benefits coverage or whatever other questions kept you awake worried all night. What are the chances you will get the same representative on the phone the second time you call, or the third, or fourth? Every time you make that call, you will be introducing yourself and telling your story to a new customer service rep and that usually leads to "well that's not what the person told me yesterday" and the headaches begin.

Another down side to call centers is the lack of experience in the sales department. Before I continue on this thought, let me say that I think a call center is a great place for insurance agents and brokers to start their careers, but I am looking at this from a customer point of view. Call center agents are usually hired very young and most of the time, it is their first job in the insurance industry. Most call center agents who decide that insurance sales are the career for them will move into the captive/independent agent or broker field after a couple of years experience.

If you are a young driver looking for the best rates, or somebody who prefers online and over the phone service, then call centers may be the way to go for you. If you don't like the hassle of dealing with many different people to solve one problem or you prefer a more experienced insurance representative then maybe a call center insurance company isn't for you.

My next post will explain the pros and cons of captive/independent agents and brokers (The alternate choice to call center agents).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

An Auto Dialer Service Can Impact Your Business Positively

An auto dialer service software is a system which allows for a phone to dial automatically from a list of numbers. Apart from doing this function independently, it also has the facility to give to the call center department a report of all activities. It also has the capacity to deliver a prerecorded message to the customer. The coming of age of call center activities has been possibly mainly because of this wonderful technology. Apart from delivering prerecorded messages, the system also has the capability of connecting a live customer immediately to the call center executive who is free to take such calls. An auto dialer service software could be compared to a reverse answering machine having some more additional features.

As we all know, we are today living in a world of competition and only those companies who are able to absorb and use newer and better technologies can aspire to survive and grow in this fiercely competitive scenario. The best advantage with this machine is that it replaces a lot of mundane repetitive tasks done by human hand. This frees the time of these call centers activities and gives them more time to concentrate on activities which result in more productivity and better management of their time.

Furthermore, many small companies do not have the resources to spend on a team of call center activities and for such companies, this auto dialer service is indeed a boon. By installing this software, these companies can get their job of contacting the customers, done at a minimum cost. There is also a high element of efficiently and productivity by using this software.

The growth of newer and advanced technologies in auto dialer service has been amazing. Many such devices that are available today have the facility to work both on landline and VOIP phone services such as Skype. They also have the facility of voice recognition. Most amazingly this auto dialer service has the capability to play different messages depending on different situation. If the phone is answered by answering machine then a different set of message is sent to called number.

If a live customer picks up the number, then the software recognizes it immediately and routes the call automatically to a call center agent who is free. It also has many more facilities like automatic retries for numbers that are not reachable. Some numbers which need to be contacted periodically can be automatically scheduled in this software and the number can be called daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly as needed. On the whole, it is an amazing software which plays a big role in increasing the efficiency of call center agents.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Critical Indicators With Auto Upkeep

Car maintenance is too crucial to the lifespan of your car to take for granted. Yet it can often be easy to push past oil change and air filter limitations to keep driving with the intention to do it later. This will be a mistake, but one which many of us are guilty of making. Choosing the best mechanic to handle your car repair and maintenance matters is daunting when you've got little technical expertise in the car you are driving. A lot of people realize the boundaries to which they're able to push their car, yet that doesn't necessarily mean those same drivers could deal with it if anything went wrong. That is why it is wise to keep the following aspects in your mind when it comes to maintaining the integrity of your vehicle:

Third party Sources

When you're thinking of car maintenance it is usually recommended to check around and find the experiences of people you trust. This is a nice method to show your understanding when you're in to have the car fixed or serviced, and it can prevent you from getting roped into making pointless repairs or maintenance. Although mechanics are hard-working people who simply want to do excellent work and get drivers back out on their way, it often helps to have some background information about wherever you will be bringing your car or SUV along with the maintenance history on your car.

Driver Guides

Just about every car and truck comes along with an user's guide book that can recommend best car care habits. Skip this publication at your own hazard. By browsing the accessible details, you'll be aware beforehand when the best time to have your automobile maintained might be. Typical intervals and special care is included, and this will provide the right amount of trust to plan any remedy.

Car or truck Lovers

Harnessing the effectiveness of the net can put you in touch with many little known experts, which will be prepared to give you the information and facts that you need to be able to keep your automobile operating smoothly for years into the future. These fans may also offer up ideas and tips for improving the performance of your car in time. If that betterment in performance is practical or perhaps to keep things interesting, you'll find the various tools you require with a painless look. Online car centers like German Auto Center may put you in touch with some of these mechanics through online forums and chat rooms.

Keep in mind, your car's lifespan depends on how much understanding you are able to process and actions you are prepared to take. Entrust your vehicle in to the hands of industry experts, who put your full satisfaction first, and the road into the future will be a comfortable one.